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Fiji PM refuses to resign -

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Fiji PM refuses to resign

Reporter: Tom Iggulden

The Prime Minister of Fiji has reportedly called on the President to fire the head of the military,
while refusing calls from the military to resign.


TONY JONES: Fiji's military chief is pressuring the country's Prime Minister to quit, but Prime
Minister Qarase has refused to step down. Instead, he's reportedly called on the country's
president to fire the head of the military after failing to do so himself yesterday. Concerns of
possible violence in the country have been fuelled by news that the army today seized seven tonnes
of ammunition, ignoring an agreement with the police to leave it at the docks. Tom Iggulden

TOM IGGULDEN: The local media in Fiji is reporting the Prime Minister will resign unless the
military chief there is sacked, but Mr Qarase is denying it.

LAISENIA QARASE: I declare emphatically that there is absolutely no question of me resigning.

TOM IGGULDEN: On Monday, he tried to fire military chief Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who opposes
legislation the Government has moved that could give Amnesty to the leaders of the last coup, but
the colonel chosen to replace him declined the top job.

NEUMI LEWENI: If anything has come out of what happened yesterday, it's just proven to the whole of
Fiji that we are a unified force.

TOM IGGULDEN: Now the army is putting more pressure on the Government by seizing more than seven
tonnes of ammunition from the dock at Suva.

ANDREW HUGHES: I've spoken to the Prime Minister. I've just given him a brief on what has occurred
over the last 24 hours. Obviously there's a lot of interest on what is happening with that

TOM IGGULDEN: But the army says it ordered the ammunition in May, before current talk of a coup.

NEUMI LEWENI: There shouldn't be any concern because half of that consignment itself is blanks.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Commonsense tells me that the Fijian military would already have a fair bit of
ammunition, so I don't suppose this is the only ammunition they would have access to.

TOM IGGULDEN: The Australian who heads Fiji's police force said the army broke an agreement to
leave the ammunition on the dock until he issued it with a licence.

ANDREW HUGHES: I haven't issued a licence yet and I was going - intended on doing that. Our
agreement yesterday with the military is that we have our joint press conference and brief and
then, you know, revisiting it.

TOM IGGULDEN: But the army says it doesn't need the police's permission to import the ammunition.

NEUMI LEWENI: The fact of the matter is we've got all of the documents and we don't really see the
reason why we need to go into all of this.

TOM IGGULDEN: The Australian Government, among others, is taking the threat of a coup seriously.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: I'm very worried that the coup could take place pretty quickly.

TOM IGGULDEN: Canberra has issued a travel warning has been issued and John Howard has offered
support to his Fijian counterpart.

JOHN HOWARD: I told the Prime Minister last night that Australia strongly supported the dually and
democratically elected government of that country, and, separately, Mr Speaker, it's been made
clear on behalf of Australia, directly to Commodore Bainimarama, on a number of occasions and most
recently in the last 24 hours, that the proper role of the military in a democracy is to respect
and support the properly elected government.

TOM IGGULDEN: But, just in case he doesn't, two Australian Navy ships have been placed on standby
in the event of violence.

ANGUS HOUSTON: Our preparations are focused on, obviously, the safety of Australians.

KIM BEAZLEY: When I was Defence Minister during the first Fijian coup, which I think was back in
'87 or thereabouts - and we made - in fact, as I recollect, we put a company of troops off the
coastline in case anything went wrong for Australians who were there. Thankfully it didn't.

TOM IGGULDEN: Tensions are set to rise further when Commodore Bainimarama returns from inspecting
Fijian troops serving in Iraq later this week. When he does, he's pledged to force the resignation
of Prime Minister Qarase. Today the army is also playing down that threat.

NEUMI LEWENI: It is best we wait for the return of the commander and then they can sit down at the
table and, like responsible people, discuss the issue and come up with an amicable solution that
will be best for everyone, rather than trying to remove him whilst he's away.

TOM IGGULDEN: And as for the man chosen to replace him..

NEUMI LEWENI: Well, he is there and enjoying himself playing cricket. So what's the fuss all about?

TOM IGGULDEN: Tom Iggulden, Lateline.

(c) 2006 ABC